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[Game Review] Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Well, this review might be retro, but it’s actually somewhat relevant considering the imminent release of Sonic Mania, a game I am incredibly excited for. You see, Sonic the Hedgehog was actually my first foray into gaming, not Nintendo. Personally, now I prefer Nintendo in the same way that you stop watching kid’s cartoons at about 14 to start watching horror films like the edgy teen you are, but Sonic will still remain an important part of my life. And let’s be real here – Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is still a damn good game, even by today’s standards. So… why is that?

Sonic 2 doesn’t bother with much of a plot – Robotnik is capturing animals again and working on a mysterious project, so it’s time to destroy all of his hard work under the assumption that he might be doing something evil with it all, which, to be fair, is a good assumption. So we won’t focus much on all that story business; Sonic 2 is all about it’s gameplay, which is fast, fun and expertly crafted. Sonic’s new skills in this game are the spin dash, which allows him to jet forward in ball form at high speed, taking out enemies, collecting rings and colliding with old ladies, and Tails, who follows him around. Tails is simply a little buddy for your little brother to play as whenever he comes into your room wanting to play a game – ineffectual, respawns constantly after death and yet surprisingly able to keep up with the guy who’s supposedly the ‘world’s fastest hedgehog’.

All of the areas that are under Robotnik control, or zones, are thematic and imaginative. They all have a unique, stand-out colour scheme and individual graphics that make each one fun to traverse. Most older fans can probably recite them by name – Emerald Hill, Chemical Plant, Sex Dungeon, Casino Night, etc. One of those may not be correct. However, whilst most of the time blazing through levels is fun and exciting, it can be somewhat annoying when you’re hampered by poor game design. For the most part, the levels are good, but every so often you’ll hit a section where gameplay slows to a crawl – the most egregious level design is probably the Aquatic Ruins, which has a range of irritating traps and enemies that jump out at you with almost no hope to avoid them. It’s annoying, and it means the levels take longer to get through.

However, pretty much every level restores your faith in humanity once you make it to the end of the second act, where you face off against Robotnik’s new robot of the day, themed around the level. In the Chemical Plant, he throws acidic drops at you, for example, in the Casino Night he brings in a neon-plated machine that has a grabber on it, and in the Sex Dungeon he smacks you with a floppy dildo. They’re all fast-paced (again, except the Aquatic Ruins if you fight him properly) and don’t involve complex mechanics. The point of Sonic is not like other games, where you gain new abilities and fight bosses that are weak to those abilities – your skill in Sonic is getting through a level quickly, efficiently and without damage, and every boss is testing, with incremental difficulty, that skill – this leads up to the final fight which really tests your speed and reflexes by having you fight the foes with no rings; rings, logically, being the things you collect in each level that prevent Sonic from dying when he’s hit by an enemy.

This I find a bit more stupid. There’s little point to collecting rings besides getting a life when you collect 100 and, well, points, I guess. But Sonic can survive infinitely with just one gold band in hand, taking endless punches to the face, so long as he picks the ring back up before he gets thwacked again. But it’s an interesting mechanic, so by that fact alone it gets a pass, I suppose. It makes just about as much sense as Mario shrinking by scale factor 1/2 whenever he gets a punch to the groin.

The enemies – sorry, badniks – are pretty well-designed and quite nice to look at, too. There’s new badniks with pretty much every stage and act, so the levels, like the bosses, also increment in difficulty to test your skills. One test of skill that I cannot abide, though, is the special stages. When you go through a checkpoint with 50 rings, you can optionally try the special stage, where you must collect rings whilst running forward, like those Temple Run clone games you see on the app store nowadays. If you collect enough, you’ll be rewarded with one Chaos Emerald. Collect all 7, I’m sure everyone knows: Sonic becomes Super Sonic. In this golden state, he drains rings, and when you run out of rings you revert to normal. However, so long as you keep your collection of rings up, you get to play as a godlike hedgehog who cannot take damage, jumps higher, runs faster, and is immune to all sex dungeon shenanigans.

Of course, the final boss doesn’t have any rings, so you can’t use Super Sonic in the final stage of Sonic 2. Once more, intelligent game design means you must use actual skill at least once in the game. However, don’t get used to this Super mode – collecting the 7 Emeralds is so obnoxiously hard that it would be pointless to try. The jarring shift from running sideways to running forwards, and Tails being the complete liability that he is, makes them difficult to handle. By the time you get to the 7th special stage, you’ll be tearing your hair out as you find yourself one or two rings short of the mark.

One thing I absolutely cannot fault Sonic 2 for is the masterful sound design. The sound effects are punchy and memorable (you hear these sounds once, and you’ll remember them forever) and by god, the soundtrack is widely considered, and rightly so, to be one of the best of the older generation. Every level has a good theme, and some levels have fantastic themes – Casino Night, Chemical Plant, Mystic Cave… the boss themes for the normal stage and the final level are climactic and enjoyable to listen to, and overall, there’s no song that I could genuinely fault. Well… the two-player stages have different music for each level and… let’s just not talk about them.

Sonic 2 is a shining classic and I’m not even talking with my nostalgia goggles on now – it still holds up today for gameplay and music, even if the plot’s not worth discussing. The stages are memorable, mostly for deviating from the ice-fire-grass-mountain theme that most platformers went with at the time, including our plumber friend Mario, who’s still not learned that levels based on biomes are tired and old, like an elderly relative that refuses to die and give you their house already. The levels are tightly designed, quick and fun to get through, and at an acceptable level of difficulty. Of course, better players can completely trivialise most of the game, but even the final few stages give them a run for their proverbial money.

If you’ve not played Sonic 2, then firstly, you can’t call yourself a true gamer, and secondly, play it. I can guarantee that pretty much any gamer will get some enjoyment from Sonic, even if it’s just from the exciting Sex Dungeon Zone. Collecting emeralds is an additional challenge for those who find the ordinary levels too simple, and the final boss is one of the most memorable challenges that every child of the 90s remembers. Well… they remember fighting it. Far fewer probably remember actually beating it.

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